THE GIRLS' OWN ADVENTURE
Olivia and I have known Jessica and Clara Coleridge all their lives, and they are now in their early thirties. In March 2001, Clara handed me a copy of a dusty typescript which she had found in her mother's attic. It was a story I had written about the two girls and their friends in 1985, and of which I had long since lost my own copy. In those days we didn't have personal computers, and still used electric typewriters, so there was no old disc containing the story either.
The story is called The Fooling of Mr. Ketterer, Mr. Ketterer being their headmaster at the time. This is how it came to be written. Jessie, who is the older sister, was about ten or eleven years old and she came up to me and we had the following conversation: 'Robert .' 'Yes?' 'You know how you are always writing books?' 'Yes.' 'And how you have written lots and lots of them?' 'Yes.' 'Well, I was thinking ' 'Yes?' 'You know how your books are about all sorts of different things?' 'Yes.' 'Well, I was wondering if you would write one about me.' 'About you?' 'Yes, it needn't be a big book or anything, just a little book. But I'd really like it if you would write one about me and then I could show my friends.'
Clara and Jessica staying with the Temples when they were at All Hallows School
Jessie stood looking up at me with her huge questioning eyes, with her enormous eyelashes which fluttered a bit in case that helped, and was in deadly earnest. She really did want me to write a book about her. She thought I would probably say no, because grownups always said no, but she really, really wanted me to do this. And she was having a real go, and had summoned up all her courage, and anyway she thought I was such a softie that there might just be a chance.
Well, how could I say no to such a direct approach from someone who combined such innocence and cunning in the irresistable face of a little angel? You know what determined little girls are like when they go after something. They won't let you alone. So I said I would think about it. Jessie jumped up and down with glee and clapped her hands and squealed and ran out of the room down the hall and upstairs to tell her sister the unbelievable news. Clara was a bit glum, because I had promised Jessie I would think about writing a book about her, but what about Clara herself? Would she get a look-in? She didn't dare to ask me anything herself, but I hastened to assure her that they would both be in it if I could think of something to say.
And so it was that one morning while lying in bed I did my usual thing of having an idea. I get a lot of ideas in bed, or in the bath. Otherwise I think of things when I have a walk. Funny how one doesn't think of things when sitting, only when lying down or walking! Perhaps this is because when one is seated, one is always either talking or writing, and thus concentrating upon something.
G. K. Chesterton wrote a very inspired essay called 'The Art of Lying in Bed', and was one of the world's great practitioners of the art. I do recommend his essay heartily to one and all who wish to get the most out of their indolence.
Jessie and Clara were pupils at a boarding school called All Hallows School, near Frome, in Somerset. It wasn't just down the road, but it was not all that far either, from our own house in Somerset. Their parents were great friends of ours but always living abroad because Sam was in the Army, and he was then a military attaché at various embassies. His name is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the same as the poet, because he is the direct descendant of the poet's brother. The girls' mother was one of our best friends, Trish Coleridge, one of whose primary traits is that she is one of the world's natural and most devoted mothers. But because of her marital circumstances, Trish's great trial in life was that she wasn't able to be with her girls and so she often gets mournful and says she 'abandoned' them. As far as she was concerned, she did. But of course the girls didn't really notice, because they had each other and were too busy having fun at All Hallows to think of having been 'abandoned', and anyway there were the holidays.
There were two families which Jessie and Clara visited on occasional weekends during their years at All Hallows, the Whiteheads and us. We never met the Whiteheads at that time, and we sometimes wondered if they really existed. They must have thought the same about us.
At first it was only Jessie, because Clara was too young to go to All Hallows. But then Clara joined her. And our story concerns both.
The girls were always chattering about Mr. Ketterer, and about the rules,
and the wonderful plots that the pupils had about trying to get away with
breaking them. Since I am a great believer in breaking rules, this appealed
to me. Mr. Ketterer was far from being an ogre. He was actually a very
nice, jolly sort of fellow, who was genuinely fond of children. What is
more, the pupils liked him very much. But because he was the headmaster,
his position made it absolutely necessary for a terrible fate to await
him at the hands of the girls:
Jessica with her friend Peggy Murray
Now the various participants in the saga have scattered to the winds, but some have scattered back again and we have been able to track them down and get their photos. A couple are still missing, but we are a determined lot and we will find them. We have decided to put the story on the website and all the girls involved and their friends and families, and all the students now at All Hallows can read the Girls' Own Adventure. We have the photos of the girls as they were then, and as they are now. And some of them have their own comments and recollections to add. Enough time has rolled by since 1985 that this is all very much in the past, and we are all enjoying the nostalgia. The comments and mannerisms of the different girls in the story are precisely what they were like then, although some of them may have forgotten. And the argument as to who was going to be the more famous still hasn't been settled yet. So we'll have to wait and see when a few more years have gone by
Clara and Jessica as they are now.
Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy reading 'the book about Jessie'. Here it is: The Fooling of Mr. Ketterer, and it is only safe to make it public now that the girls are all beyond retribution, have graduated from university, and the only men they 'fool' nowadays are their boyfriends. And we hope they don't do that with any greater degree of damage than they caused the headmaster. For the best thing about the fooling of Mr. Ketterer was that he never knew he was fooled until later, when we sent him the story.